Hike Southbound through Britain with Daryl May
Click for Northbound hike
DS50 Lane
DS50 Flowers on stairway
Days S44 - S52                                                                   English Midlands
Day S50 - Much Birch to Monmouth
Day S49                     The toilet paper tantrum                        Day S51
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Scottish Highlands
Central Scotland
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North of England
English Midlands
    English West Country

Northbound Home
Sunday, April 13,  2008

Time of departure: 9.00 am
Time of arrival: 2.45 pm
Place departed: Much Birch, Herefordshire
Place arrived: Monmouth, Monmouthshire

Miles: 13.5
Cum miles: 714.2
Percent complete: 73.5

Bed sign The Queen's Head, Monmouth no stars
Cost for bed and breakfast: 35 ($70)
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DS50 Monmouth sign
DS50 Welsh sign
The Queen's Head in Monmouth is a dump. My non-smoking room reeked of smoke, and there was no hot water. No number of "sweeties" (the standard greeting at this pub) makes that right. If the two places I'd tried previously weren't full, I wouldn't have checked in here.

"You can't expect hot water before four o'clock, Sir," said the owner. But it was long past four. And there wasn't any at 6 pm or 9.30 pm for that matter.

The standard of accommodation in Britain ranges from dumpy to darn nice - but I wish it were more predictable. Last night's Pilgrim Hotel had a non-smoking room and plenty of hot water. But it also was my third telephone-equipped room in a row that couldn't handle incoming calls. When I checked out, the price had risen by 20, and the credit card operation gave problems. Hobson had to spot the overcharge. The credit card machine (or manager) error left me with five credit card slips attached to my receipt in case I have to sort out multiple incorrect charges later. All this was caused by double-booking at the nearby B&B in the first place.

The British occasionally spit out the word "inefficiency" through pursed lips, but they generally grin and bear it. No one is trying to diddle anyone. Just as with my boot saga some weeks ago, it's a matter of low standards and laissez-faire. Things are very much improved from years-gone-by. Most times, things work fine.

At a pub I stayed at recently, I discussed the pub's economics with the owner at breakfast.

"You wouldn't believe what I pay for toilet paper," she said, and quoted a figure that seemed to me in keeping with a hotel that is also a pub and a restaurant in the center of town.

"Hmm," I said.

"It's the things people do with it!" she exclaimed. The picture this evoked made me regret we were holding this discussion at breakfast.

"What sort of things?" I asked. "Do they steal it?"

"They steal it," she said, "but that's not all."

"Uh," I said, getting ready for more.

"They use it for tissues!" she went on, quite outraged. "To remove make-up and stuff."

"They clean their shoes with it," she added. They check their car oil with it."

I bit into my toast, wondering if she was done.

"And that's not all," she said. "I caught someone drying their hands with it - rather than use the drying machines."

"Amazing," I replied.

"You can't believe all the things they do with it," she went on. But I beat a hasty retreat before she could educate me further.

I thought about this conversation later. And I decided the manager's zeal was commendable! She would figure out the best thing to do. And she'd choose something her customers would live with, or they'd go elsewhere.

If this were a more socialist country, the government would intervene. Consultants would be employed to devise a national toilet paper strategy. Recycled toilet paper research would start. Coin-operated toilet paper dispensers would reflect "user pays" policy, and all public establishments would have to fork out for one. A new British Standard would define the standard measure of toilet paper in terms of size, softness, absorptivity and strength. Once that was done, a European standard would undo it all. The coin-op machines would be replaced with ones that accept credit cards. The Daily Mail would rant that they should have made these machines also accept the London Transport "oyster" card. The B&B credentialing services would deny an establishment a coveted four stars because the paper roll was on the wrong way.

Instead of suffering from government intervention, a well-intentioned businesswoman was addressing the costs of her operation by herself, and I had no doubt she would arrive at an acceptable outcome.

Thus the miracle of capitalism can be explained by the parable of the toilet paper.

It was as well that I'd climbed two big hills yesterday, and not left them to today - because I had another to climb today at Llancloud. At that point, I descended a long way to reach Monmouth, a descent that reflected all the earlier hill-climbing. I would advise anyone walking north from Monmouth on the A466 to grit his teeth.

In Monmouth this evening, I met John and Claire Saunders, who had generously driven all the way from Oxford, to buy me dinner. I have known John since about 1954 - with a 50-year gap between 1956 and 2006 before the Internet made it easier to trace people. He was undoubtedly the best sports coach I ever had, a dazzling inspiration to young cricket and rugby players including some who became international players. As well as teaching technique, when less enthusiastic coaches merely presided over our games, he imparted psychological insights which I use in life and in my walk. I've recognized that the last five miles of a ten-mile hike are hard - just as the last five miles of a 15-mile or longer hike are hard. The mind is telling the body that the last miles are hard whatever the distance. Now you can't easily tell yourself that you're going on a 20-mile hike when you know you're going to do 15. But you can tell yourself that the fatigue you feel on the last five miles are induced by the mind, and can be fought.

Claire and John Saunders are authors of "So you think you know Shakespeare? The definitive Shakespeare quizbook", an entertaining way to review your Shakespeare knowledge - or acquire some. They are overnighting in Monmouth before returning to Oxford tomorrow - another set of friends who've generously supported my endeavor. I'm fortunate and privileged that they've been interested in me at all.
DS50 Henry V
DS50 Queen's Head
Upper of the two pictures: King Henry V was born in Monmouth. Just above: The Queen's Head, not recommended
Day S49                                          2007 and 2008 Daryl May                                           Day S51